To whom it may concern,
I would like to make a submission to the Callan Local Area Plan in regards to TC03: Addressing town centre dereliction and vacancy on Upper Bridge Street.
Public and community engagement work on the future of the Bridge Street Upper has been significant over the past five years, and it would be essential that the outcomes of this research, creative input and community participation is recognised, referenced and carried through in the LAP.
Here is a summary of the community-led process (which has been supported locally by Kilkenny County Council and KLP and nationally by The Arts Council) over the past five years. I've also attached two reports, the first a general overview of The Bridge Street Project (2015) and the second the outcomes of Studio Weave's narrative and design led engagement and process (2014 - 16).
The Bridge Street Project was a collective re-imagining of Bridge Street Upper, Callan, Co. Kilkenny as a public space with a civic future. The project developed through interdisciplinary collaboration between theatre-makers, architecture practitioners, residents and business owners of Bridge Street, and the wider community of Callan.
How did it happen?
Callan in Co. Kilkenny has become something of a hub itself as a hub for artistic activity with many organisations gathering there, including KCAT Arts Centre, Equinox Theatre Company, Abhainn Rí Festival, Fennelly’s of Callan, Monkeyshine Theatre, Asylum Productions, Tony O’Malley Residency, Workhouse Union and Trasna Productions. In 2014, three artistic projects unfolded on Bridge Street Upper.
For some years, Etaoin Holahan has been curating popular, one-off art events and residencies out of Fennelly's to explore ideas of kindness and hospitality.
Members of Equinox Theatre, an inclusive theatre company based at KCAT Art and Study Centre, Callan, pointed out that the street was a problem in terms of accessibility - particularly for people with mobility issues - and were keen to develop an artistic response. So, that summer during the Abhainn Rí Festival, they opened a pop-up café on Bridge Street. Everyone was invited to come in and share stories about the street over a cup of tea.
Designers and architects were invited to Callan by Commonage for a series of design and build summer schools held during the Abhainn Rí Festival over three summers, 2010 -13. This led to an active research project commissioned by Kilkenny Leader Partnership and Kilkenny County Council Forward Planning Department, exploring planning and public participation in five towns in Kilkenny. Each town was given a theme and ‘Move' was chosen for Callan. Bridge Street became a focus because of its traffic problems which have led to problems for pedestrians too. The project wanted to explore how children navigated through the town. So, the sixth class students of Bunscoil McAuley Rice took part in urban design workshops with London-based architects Studio Weave. They learned old chalk pavement games as a fun way to understand scale and movement. Then, on Sunday 29th July, the students invited young people to join them on Bridge Street for ‘Children at Play’. The street was closed to traffic so that everyone could enjoy the chalk games, food, live music and children’s disco. Over 300 people came, showing Bridge Street’s potential as a site with, and in need of, urban renewal.
Following all these events, The Bridge Street Project was established in 2015 so that all the creative initiatives could collaborate under the umbrella of Trasna Productions and with funding through an Arts Council Arts Participation Project Award and a Kilkenny County Council Arts Act Grant.
How it grew or how it was sustained? (Kept going)
The Bridge Street Project wanted to respond to the people as well as the buildings that make up the street. Over the years, houses have been painted, footpaths repaved, windows changed and countless of over small and large transformations. The same is for the people who used to or still live on Bridge Street. The Bridge Street Project captured this through a theatre production ‘Bridge Street Will Be’ and an architectural intervention ‘Reflected Elevation’. The events and workshops were made possible by the businesses and homeowners on the street, who gave access to the interior and exterior of buildings, as well as the knowledge and stories of Bridge Street from the Callan community.
Using the stories gathered by Equinox Theatre Company the previous summer, Kilkenny based theatre maker, John Morton wrote a script woven from the fabric of local legends and other oral histories. A cast of over 80 community and professional actors was led by Asylum Productions and Equinox Theatre. The stories unfolded through the street and into its buildings, using the street as their set. The immersive theatre production delighted audience members over five nights of the Abhainn Rí Festival, with many coming back for a second, and even a third performance.
Prior to the theatre performance the street was a hive of activity as the architecture stand led a series of workshops titled BridgeStreet: MAKE. With Studio Weave, participants painted, sawed, sanded, welded in stone, wood, concrete and metal exploring the rich tradition of ornate shop facades still evident in Callan today. Over fifty participants took part in workshops to paint the facades of the buildings. The new paint-scape represented the cycles the street has moved through, the many lives lived on the street and the many changes to the buildings. Studio Weave developed a ‘reflected elevation', with the shapes and character of one side of the street being painted onto the other. It provided a legacy for the project that is still visible to passers-by today.
Influence and impact
In 2016, Courtyard Screen led by Studio Weave with Workhouse Union and Fennelly’s set out to do two things – the first was to create a new infrastructure for people to gather, the second was to create a shared vision for the renewal of Bridge Street. Through workshops in wood carving, wood turning and sewing a new wooden weatherproof structure was built. It was immediately put to use as an outdoor pop-up cinema. A film programme, as part of the Inhabitants activities for the Abhainn Rí Festival activated this new space with films from around the world exploring architecture, activism and the relationships people have to their buildings and spaces. Over 120 participants took part for workshops in storytelling and public engagement, and to discuss the future of Bridge Street. The project was funded through an Arts Council Engaging with Architecture Award. Without significant public space on the street, Courtyard Screen has established as a key piece of infrastructure in Fennelly’s of Callan’s courtyard, acting as an outdoor seating and eating area, screening space and music venue.
In 2017, Etaoin Holahan decided to open Fennelly’s of Callan as a permanent cafe and cultural venue, offering a taste of the bustle Bridge Street once had. Serving the community delicious breakfast, lunch and coffee the business has given the street some of its vibrant market life back.